Voice TV reported on the latest protest near Government House yesterday evening. Credit: Voice TV

Court revokes its order to shut down online media

The Criminal Court reasoned after its fresh hearing yesterday that the order was not correct because of feeds of unclear bits of information, which accompanied a complaint made by the Ministry of Digital and Society (DES), a complainant

The Court read its ruling on the hearing after one of the platforms, Voice TV, had petitioned against its order issued on Tuesday.

“Because the complainant did not present to the Court that its complaint was actually about the shutdown of the whole communication channels, the Court hence did not learn about factual bits of information concerned and misunderstood that the complaint was about waiving of some news contents that were presented to it.

“The court order, therefore, is not correct. Hereby, it is revoked. So is the complaint,” ruled the Court.

The Criminal Court had deliberated the petition made by Voice TV which runs an online TV and an online news website and learned more of clarified facts concerning the DES’s complaint.

According to the Court’s deliberation, the DES had filed a complaint following its authority to the Court on Monday. It was informed by the Royal Thai Police that it had found some contents broadcast by Voice TV, and the anti-government Facebook Page, Free Youth, were deemed to have undermined national security.  (Read: Media organisations jointly oppose the state threat over press freedom following broadcast on protests accused of undermining national security)

The DES then probed into the case and learned that those platforms disseminated contents inviting people to join protests, which are prohibited under the declaration of the State of Emergency issued last Thursday.

The DES, however, could not request internet providers to block specific contents, so, it filed a complaint to close the whole communication channels, asking the Court to close 12 URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) of the two platforms with some contents presented to the Court.

Under the Court’s review, Article 20 of the Computer Crime Acts gives the Court power to suspend or delete “computer data” which violates the act, including that deemed to undermine national security, stir public panic, order, or morals. So, this is specific to “data or information”, the Court stated.

Also, the State of Emergency announcement addresses the same point, suggesting that it does not intend to close the whole communication channels, the Court further stated.

According to the Constitution, press freedom and rights to communication are upheld, so the two legislations must be interpreted in line with the Constitution, the Court concluded.

As such, the order to close the 12 URLs, which has shut down the two platforms was not correct, the Court ruled while revoking it along with the DES’s complaint.

The four online media outlets including Voice TV, Prachathai, The Reporters and The Standard, and FB Page Free Youth were named by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the new order issued on last Friday by its head, Police Chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, as having published some contents “deemed to undermine national security”, which is prohibited under the emergency’s announcements.

The center then instructed the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and the DES Ministry to probe into the cases and consider taking action, whether suspending broadcasting or removing the contents of those outlets from the data storage using their authority.

Such the order, which was leaked to the public, faced strong opposition by some leading media organisations, which feared this could infringe on press freedom at large.

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha then intervened, instructing the EOC to review its order. But the court order was delivered at the time against some of the outlets already.

The new Court ruling is seen as having set a new standard for media operations in times of crisis, a rare incident in media arena.